Anti-gang efforts to target San Jose’s young women and kids as young as 6

By John Woolfolk
Mercury News

With violent crime rising in what was once dubbed America’s Safest Big City, San Jose officials Tuesday will consider an updated long-term strategy for combating street gangs that includes reaching out to young women and to children as early as first grade.

Mayor Chuck Reed said the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force’s strategic work plan for the next three years is “a call to action for our community.” The city council will consider the plan Tuesday evening.

“We’re going to start younger,” Reed said. “We’re going to get down into the elementary schools. And we have a growing involvement of girls, so we need to deal with not just the boys, but also we have to have programs targeted to our young women and girls.”

Reed has increased gang-prevention funding from $3 million to $4 million, and there are plans for an additional $1 million by 2011. But at least one city council member whose district has been hard hit by surging gang violence says more money is needed now.

“For the plan to have any teeth, it has to have funding behind it,” said Councilwoman Nora Campos, who represents the city’s East Side. “With the current spike in violent crimes in the city of San Jose, we’ve proven we need more resources toward these efforts. One of the things I plan to continue to do is to look for funding so we don’t have to wait until 2011.”

But Reed said he’s already increased the task force’s funding this year, its first increase since 1999, as well as reorganized it to include the district attorney and a county supervisor. Noting that San Jose continues to face chronic multimillion dollar budget deficits, he said the city should see how effective the current increase is first before adding to it.

“We just put an extra million dollars in,” Reed said. “We can’t spend money we don’t have. If we had more money, I’d like to put more money in sooner. But we do need to evaluate the effectiveness of the money we’re spending.”

The funding dispute marks the latest tit-for-tat between Reed and Campos over public safety. Reed insists public safety is his top priority and has increased police staffing and anti-gang funding since taking office in January 2007, but Campos has argued that rising crime rates on his watch warrant more action.

Their spat hit a low last year when Campos called Reed’s losing vote against rebuilding instead of remodeling a fire station in her district a threat to public safety. Three months later, the mayor replaced Campos on the 24-member gang task force with Councilwoman Madison Nguyen.

The new gang-prevention plan notes that both the number of killings in San Jose, 33, and the proportion that were gang-related, 48 percent, reached a 10-year high in 2007. But it also noted a long-term success: a 44-percent decrease in violent crime rates among youth since 1996. Reed said the recent surge in gang violence began before he took office and peaked a year ago, though it remains higher than it was the year before.

The Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force was established in 1991 as a collaborative effort among various city, county and state agencies, law enforcement, schools and community groups to coordinate intervention efforts to steer kids away from gangs. The strategic plan lays out its goals and policy direction over the next few years.

A trend toward younger gang offenders and victims has prompted the focus on younger kids. The number of gang offenders and victims in the 10- to 14-year-old age group more than doubled from 2005 to 2007, although the biggest numbers remain among those 15 to 19 years old. The plan update also calls for more gender-specific youth outreach to “meet the distinct developmental needs of female youth,” and to hold young offenders more accountable for minor crimes.

“We’ve got to engage with them earlier so they’re not committing five or six offenses between their first offense and the time they see a judge,” Reed said.

Campos, who is out on maternity leave and won’t be attending Tuesday’s meeting, said she found the plan impressive, particularly in its focus on reaching out to younger children and girls. She just worries it won’t succeed without more money now.

“You can have a plan that sits on a shelf and goes nowhere,” Campos said. “That plan needs to be implemented now, not in 2011. Our staff is spread thin, and our community-based organizations are spread thin. In order for them to do the work they need to do, we need to fund them.”

Posted by on Sep 21 2008. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

1 Comment for “Anti-gang efforts to target San Jose’s young women and kids as young as 6”

  1. emop

    DEAd cATs….windshiELD prOBLEm……

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